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The Loss of the Wager

The Loss of the Wager: The Narratives of John Bulkeley and the Hon. John Byron

with an introduction by Alan Gurney
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    The Loss of the Wager
    Book Description:

    The Loss of the Wager is an eighteenth century melodrama set in a ferociously inhospitable climate on one of the world's most remote and dangerous coastlines. When Commodore Anson set out for the Pacific in 1740, to attack the Spanish ships on the Chilean coast, he took eight ships with him. The Wager was effectively a transport ship, carrying stores and a force of marines; as the squadron rounded Cape Horn in fearsome weather, she was unable to keep up with the rest of them, and with her gear wrecked by the storm, was driven ashore on the Patagonian coast. The tale of mutiny, hardship and tenacity that ensued was told by two of the survivors, John Bulkeley, leader of those who repudiated the captain's authority, and John Byron, then a midshipman, who remained with the captain. Both eventually reached home by different routes, and their dramatic narratives caught the public imagination. Byron was the grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron, who much admired the book and based the shipwreck scenes in Don Juan on 'my grand-dad's Narrative'. This voyage was the basis for Patrick O'Brian's historical work The Unknown Shore, written before he embarked on the Jack Aubrey novels.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-251-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    The AdmiraltyPilots, published by the Hydrographic Office, are the seafarer’s Baedekers. Totalling seventy-seven volumes they cover the world’s coastlines, oceans and seas. Inside their sober navy-blue cloth covers they contain sage advice on dangers, safe anchorages, reefs, and currents; and when paraded on a chart-room bookshelf, their gilt-lettered spines on show, they make for an impressive display of hard won nautical information.

    TheSouth American Pilothas this to say regarding a small island on the Chilean coast some 500 nautical miles north of Cape Horn:

    Isla Wager lies close E of Isla Byron; it can be identified by...


    • Dedication
      (pp. xix-xxii)
    • Preface
      (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    • A Voyage to the South Seas
      (pp. 1-122)

      On Thursday the 18th of September 1740, sailed from St Hellens his majesty’s shipCenturion,Commodore Anson, with theGloucester, Pearl, Severn, Wager,andTryal, and two store ships; this squadron was design’d round Cape Horn into the South Seas, to distress the Spaniards in those parts. The ships were all in prime order, all lately rebuilt. The men were elevated with hopes of growing immensely rich, and in a few years of returning to Old England loaden with the wealth of their enemies.

      Saturday the 20th, the Ram-head bearing N by W half W distant four leagues, the commodore...


    • Preface
      (pp. 125-128)
    • The Narrative of The Honourable John Byron
      (pp. 129-234)

      The equipment and destination of the squadron fitted out in the year 1740, of which Commodore Anson had the command, being sufficiently known from the ample and well-penned relation of it, under his direction, I shall recite no particulars that are to be found in that work. But it may be necessary, for the better understanding the disastrous fate of theWager, the subject of the following sheets, to repeat the remark, that a strange infatuation seemed to prevail in the whole conduct of this embarkation. For though it was unaccountably detained, till the season for its sailing was past,...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 235-238)

      Bulkeley, in his Preface, shows a keen awareness that a charge of mutiny hung over him. The taking of the longboat, the arrest of Captain Cheap after the killing of Cozens, would not sit well with Cheap’s fellow officers who would make up the courtmartial. Highlighting this concern is Bulkeley’s choice of an apt quotation from Edmund Waller on the title page ofA Voyage to the South-Seas:

      Bold were the men who on the ocean first

      Spread the new sails, when ship-wreck was the worst:

      More dangers NOW from MAN alone we find,

      Than from the rocks, the billows,...

  6. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-240)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)